Ballyroan Reads on GoodReads

So, we know lots of you are big fans and users of Goodreads (as are we!) so Ballyroan Reads now has its own Goodreads account. Same reviews, but you might get a sneak peek at what we’re reading currently.

Our Goodreads profile is here:
https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/53280343-ballyroan-reads

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

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Great Expectations, one of those classic novels that many know of, but have not read. This one, dear reader, is worth the effort of reading it.

From the opening pages, Dickens vividly paints us a picture of a time and place. His genius for character presents us with that unforgettable hero, Pip, and what a flawed hero he is!

The plot is strong and we enter a world of colourful and unforgettable characters. The harsh “Mrs Joe”, kindly Joe Garrity, the crazy Miss Haversham and the icy Estella. The story is well-known, but the beauty of the writing rewards attention. For me, the true genius of Dickens lies in his ability to teach us lessons about life, without ever sermonising. This quality is particularly strong in Great Expectations. We learn about love, loyalty, superficiality, snobbery and finally, what it truly means to be a “gentleman”.

This book abounds with wonderfully descriptive passages and memorable characters and tackles the universal themes of redemption and the power of forgiveness. To me, it is Dickens’ finest and most accessible work, it is more acutely focused than David Copperfield and more warm and human than Hard Times. So I say, You’ve seen the film, now read the book and Great Expectations will lead to great rewards.

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You can reserve a copy on South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

BONUS POST: Five Forthcoming Fictions

Here’s some upcoming 2016 releases that we’re looking forward to getting at Ballyroan Library. All links below will bring you to our library catalogue so you can reserve a copy online.

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What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell (April 7, 2016)
On an unseasonably warm autumn day, an American teacher enters a public bathroom beneath Sofia’s National Palace of Culture. There he meets Mitko, a charismatic young hustler, and pays him for sex. He returns to Mitko again and again over the next few months, drawn by hunger and loneliness and risk, and finds himself ensnared in a relationship in which lust leads to mutual predation, and tenderness can transform into violence. As he struggles to reconcile his longing with the anguish it creates, he’s forced to grapple with his own fraught history, the world of his southern childhood where to be queer was to be a pariah. There are unnerving similarities between his past and the foreign country he finds himself in, a country whose geography and griefs he discovers as he learns more of Mitko’s own narrative, his private history of illness, exploitation, and want.

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Our Young Man by Edmund White (April 5, 2016)
Our Young Man follows the life of a gorgeous Frenchman, Guy, as he goes from the industrial city of Clermont-Ferrand to the top of the modelling profession in New York City’s fashion world, becoming the darling of Fire Island’s gay community. Like Wilde’s Dorian Grey, Guy never seems to age; at thirty-five he is still modelling, still enjoying lavish gifts from older men who believe he’s twenty-three–though their attentions always come at a price. Ambivalently, Guy lets them believe, driven especially by the memory of growing up poor, until he finds he needs the lie to secure not only wealth, but love itself. Surveying the full spectrum of gay amorous life through the disco era and into the age of AIDS, Edmund White (who worked at Vogue for ten years) explores the power of physical beauty–to fascinate, to enslave, and to deceive–with sparkling wit and pathos.

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Everybody’s Fool by Richard Russo (May 3, 2016)
Richard Russo, at the very top of his game, now returns to North Bath, in upstate New York, and the characters who made Nobody’s Fool (1993) a “confident, assured novel [that] sweeps the reader up,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle back then. “Simple as family love, yet nearly as complicated.” Or, as The Boston Globe put it, “a big, rambunctious novel with endless riffs and unstoppable human hopefulness.”

The irresistible Sully, who in the intervening years has come by some unexpected good fortune, is staring down a VA cardiologist’s estimate that he has only a year or two left, and it’s hard work trying to keep this news from the most important people in his life: Ruth, the married woman he carried on with for years . . . the ultra-hapless Rub Squeers, who worries that he and Sully aren’t still best friends . . . Sully’s son and grandson, for whom he was mostly an absentee figure (and now a regretful one). We also enjoy the company of Doug Raymer, the chief of police who’s obsessing primarily over the identity of the man his wife might’ve been about to run off with, before dying in a freak accident . . . Bath’s mayor, the former academic Gus Moynihan, whose wife problems are, if anything, even more pressing . . . and then there’s Carl Roebuck, whose lifelong run of failing upward might now come to ruin. And finally, there’s Charice Bond—a light at the end of the tunnel that is Chief Raymer’s office—as well as her brother, Jerome, who might well be the train barrelling into the station.

Everybody’s Fool
is filled with humor, heart, hard times and people you can’t help but love, possibly because their various faults make them so stridently human. This is classic Russo—and a crowning achievement from one of the greatest storytellers of our time.

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Zero K by Don DeLillo (May 10, 2016)
The wisest, richest, funniest, and most moving novel in years from Don DeLillo, one of the great American novelists of our time—an ode to language, at the heart of our humanity, a meditation on death, and an embrace of life.

Jeffrey Lockhart’s father, Ross, is a billionaire in his sixties, with a younger wife, Artis Martineau, whose health is failing. Ross is the primary investor in a remote and secret compound where death is exquisitely controlled and bodies are preserved until a future time when biomedical advances and new technologies can return them to a life of transcendent promise. Jeff joins Ross and Artis at the compound to say “an uncertain farewell” to her as she surrenders her body.

“We are born without choosing to be. Should we have to die in the same manner? Isn’t it a human glory to refuse to accept a certain fate?”

These are the questions that haunt the novel and its memorable characters, and it is Ross Lockhart, most particularly, who feels a deep need to enter another dimension and awake to a new world. For his son, this is indefensible. Jeff, the book’s narrator, is committed to living, to experiencing “the mingled astonishments of our time, here, on earth.”

Don DeLillo’s seductive, spectacularly observed and brilliant new novel weighs the darkness of the world—terrorism, floods, fires, famine, plague—against the beauty and humanity of everyday life; love, awe, “the intimate touch of earth and sun.”

Zero K is glorious.

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Barkskins by Annie Proulx (June 14, 2016)
From Annie Proulx—the Pulitzer Prize-­ and National Book Award-­winning author of The Shipping News and “Brokeback Mountain,” comes her masterwork: an epic, dazzling, violent, magnificently dramatic novel about the taking down of the world’s forests.

In the late seventeenth century two penniless young Frenchmen, René Sel and Charles Duquet, arrive in New France. Bound to a feudal lord, a “seigneur,” for three years in exchange for land, they become wood-cutters—barkskins. René suffers extraordinary hardship, oppressed by the forest he is charged with clearing. He is forced to marry a Mi’kmaw woman and their descendants live trapped between two inimical cultures. But Duquet, crafty and ruthless, runs away from the seigneur, becomes a fur trader, then sets up a timber business. Proulx tells the stories of the descendants of Sel and Duquet over three hundred years—their travels across North America, to Europe, China, and New Zealand, under stunningly brutal conditions—the revenge of rivals, accidents, pestilence, Indian attacks, and cultural annihilation. Over and over again, they seize what they can of a presumed infinite resource, leaving the modern-day characters face to face with possible ecological collapse.

Proulx’s inimitable genius is her creation of characters who are so vivid—in their greed, lust, vengefulness, or their simple compassion and hope—that we follow them with fierce attention. Annie Proulx is one of the most formidable and compelling American writers, and Barkskins is her greatest novel, a magnificent marriage of history and imagination.

Home by Marilynne Robinson

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Home is a companion novel to Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer-winning novel Gilead. While Gilead centred around the minister, John Ames, Home concerns the family of his friend, Presbyterian minister Robert Boughton. Boughton is dying and his youngest daughter, Glory, comes back to care for him. We learn that Glory has suffered her own loss and disappointments, yet she’s surprised when her wayward brother, Jack, arrives at the house one day. Jack has always been the black sheep of the family and the restless one who can’t stay rooted. Jack, though, is facing his own tribulations and keeping something from his family

In this work of literature, Robinson’s inimitable prose is poetic and graceful as always and through her writing, she gifts us a heartbreaking tale of all life’s disappointments, where are worth lies, and the grace that allows us to continue. Home is melodic and sparse but full of acceptance as they look to understand their place and find peace.

Home is not for everyone and I am a huge Marilynne Robinson fan! The beauty of this novel, for me, lies with her exquisite writing style and understanding and forgiveness she has for her characters even if they cannot forgive themselves. But for me it’s a beautifully sad novel about our disappointments to ourselves and each other written with insight and grace.

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You reserve a copy on South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

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This is a story about Rosemary, her family’s past and how their story has shaped her and her future.  Extrovert and talkative as a child, she is much more quiet in college yet at the same time out of control. Events from years ago come back to demand her attention and questions about her beloved sister Fern and later her brother Lowell’s disappearance from her life follow her to California. Her brother turns up while on the run from the FBI and this and other events force her to confront events from her childhood.

I hadn’t heard of this book before coming across it and there is an unusual and unexpected twist in the story which I don’t want to give away. This book has many layers; it’s sad, thought provoking and involves ethics, grief and emotion. A really unique and absorbing read!

You can reserve a copy on South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

The Stranger by Camilla Lackberg

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This is a Scandinavian crime novel set in a small town on the west coast of Sweden and is part of a series of books with the recurring central character, Inspector Patrik Hedstrom. It’s a well-paced thriller but a bit light-weight. Much of the story deals with the local society and their secrets, though a certain amount of comedy is added by the life of the lazy chief of the station. After reading a couple of the series, I would say to try Henning Mankell or Jo Nesbo first if you want to read some good Scandinavian Crime Fiction.

You can reserve a copy of this on South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

Perfectly Imperfect by Harper Sloan

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Mirror, mirror … who’s the fairest of them all?

I still cringe when I hear that line. A fairy tale that had girls pretending they were the fairest, the most beautiful, and the most entitled. A fairy tale most couldn’t grow out of turned my haunted childhood memories into a living nightmare. Girls who grew up believing that pile of garbage became the meanest of all ‘mean girls.’

And those mean girls were right – it was a line meant for all the beautiful people in the world – and I knew the answer would never be me.

The women with long legs, flat stomachs, and perfect chests.

The type of women Kane Masters gravitated toward.

Well, that’s definitely not Willow Tate.

No. That will never be me.

Because I’m completely imperfect.

And … I hate myself.

I have no idea what Kane could possibly see in someone like me when he could have them

I gave this book 4 Perfectly Imperfect Stars on Goodreads.

I loved this book for a few different reasons but one of them being I could relate to some of the things Willow was feeling about herself and I think most women will. Thinking you’re not good enough for someone and putting yourself down is something I would constantly do to myself. Although over the years I’ve gotten better, I still catch myself saying something negative about myself every now and again. I think we are always harder on ourselves then we are on other people.

Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

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I’ve always been attracted to books that do something interesting with form, books like House of Leaves which uses weird typography or Infinite Jest that uses multiple sets of footnotes to help tell its unusual story. I really like when an author can tell a story in a new way that I haven’t heard before.

Pale Fire is a novel told in “a poem, its commentary and an index”. Some editions place the commentary first, as if it were an introduction to the poem, but my edition (pictured above) put the poem first, with the commentary following it.

Briefly, the poem Pale Fire is the last poem, a 1000 line magnum opus, by celebrated American poet and professor, John Shade. Upon his death, his fellow university professor, Charles Kinbote, procures the manuscript and sets about writing a critical commentary to the poem, elucidating its references and themes, however, from the get go, we can tell something is not right – Kinbote veers wildly off-topic, talking not about Shade’s poem but about Kinbote’s distant homeland Zembla, of which he may or may not be king. As the book progresses, we realise we are in the hands of one of literature’s most unreliable narrators – Is he the king of Zembla? Is this place even real? Is Kinbote mad? Did he kill Shade?

My friend recommended the novel and at first I was somewhat stumped upon how to read it – do you read the poem and then the commentary/footnotes?  In the end, I plumped for a back and forth (which was all hyperlinked in my Kindle edition – which was great), following the leads and reading the footnotes when I was instructed to by our demented narrator. I came away from the novel wondering if Kinbote was telling any truth at all, and if not what the reality behind the fictions were, but more disturbing, I was left wondering if any of what was presented to me was “true” – who is the real Kinbote? Was there a real Shade at all? Who is writing the book that we are reading? These are questions that nearly fifty years on, critics still debate, and will make you want to read this book all over again.

A final note, the book is nowhere near as difficult as it may sound, and the joy of it is you can read it anyway you want – coming to the story on your own terms, just as Nabokov would’ve wanted.

You can reserve this book on South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

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The fourth novel by Sebastian Faulks, though published in 1993, has an enduring popularity.

The plot concerns the young Englishman, Stephen Wrayford and covers the years 1910-1918. The main action takes place during the First World War and the vivid portrayal of life in the trenches is horribly real and totally unforgettable.

This book moved me to tears on many occasions and I was bereft when I finished it, as I had grown so fond of the characters and involved in their lives. The characters are well- drawn and Faulks is a master storyteller and draws us quickly into his web.

This book has it all; a tender love story, the  brutal nature of the First World War, the futility of global conflict, friendship, bravery and humanity in the face of indescribable suffering.

A less satisfactory aspect of the story is a parallel narrative set in 1978. I don’t wish to say too much about this as it might ruin the enjoyment for new readers but I found myself irritated when the story sprang forward into modern times and wished to get back to 1918. I appreciate that this element was introduced to establish a sense of continuity and links with the past and relatively modern times.

Overall, I highly recommend “Birdsong”. I found it entertaining, informative and a cracking great read. If you are looking for a book that will leave you a changed person after you have read it, this is the novel for you.

You can reserve a copy of Birdsong on South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

The Cry of the Owl by Patricia Highsmith

cryoftheowlThis is perhaps less known than some of her other novels such as the Ripley novels and Carolher second book recently made into an Oscar-nominated film. It’s a psychological thriller set in the New Jersey /Pennsylvania area of the US in the fifties.

The main character Robert Forster is trying to build a new life after a bad relationship breaks down and is drawn towards a young woman after observing her and her boyfriend in her house in an isolated rural area. He becomes obsessed with her, spying on her through the houses’ un-curtained windows. She gradually develops a suspicion that there is a lurker outside and tells her partner.

Eventually he, Forster, makes his presence known but then makes up a weak excuse for being there which the girl half believes. Nevertheless they gradually form a relationship and she splits with her boyfriend. He, the boyfriend, has suspicions about the identity of the voyeur which leads to a confrontation between him and Forster.

The story continues with numerous twists involving Forster’s ex-wife, the girls’ family and later involving a suggestion of murder. As with many of her novels none of the main characters emerge without personal flaws. It’s an uncomfortable but compelling story full of obsession and jealousy like a lot of her books. A good read.

You can reserve a copy of The Cry of the Owl on South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.